A Beginner’s Guide to ‘Telling Stories to Live’

Somehow, you’ve stumbled upon this little corner of the Internet. Now you’re trying to figure out exactly what’s happening here. Giddy-up. Let’s go.

Who runs this site?

I’m John Agliata. I am a professional storyteller, expert father and husband, certified life coach, decent boys basketball coach, amateur comedian and a good faker at a whole lot of other stuff. I do the whole LinkedIn thing to showcase my professional life. So this is who I am there:

Owner of a unique right-brain/left-brain combination. Stellar data-driven strategic planner. Insanely creative mind. Content-generating machine. Dedicated to anticipating future opportunities and capitalizing on them through innovative strategy and inspiring collateral while proactively eliminating barriers to success. Builder and leader of cross-functional teams. Expert at negotiating conflict. The person people turn to when they need to get stuff done right and fast — and when they need a laugh to lighten the mood. Careful crafter of culture. Leader. Collaborator. Motivator. Supporter.

So yeah. There’s that.

I’m starting to really hate social media, but I recognize it as a necessary-right-now evil to try to make my dreams happen.

And I like bacon. I mean, I really like bacon.

What’s up with the site’s name?

Telling Stories to Live is part of a quote by author Joan Didion in her 1979 book, The White Album, which looks at the upheaval in the 1960s and some of its leading figures, such as Charles Manson and the Blank Panthers:

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”

I love this quote because it hits on something I believe deeply: Life makes no sense.

We as human beings simply can’t understand our existence unless we craft the events that shape it into something we’re familiar with. This, I believe, is part nurture but oh-so-much-more nature. Our brains are hardwired to make sense of that which we can’t understand, and so it puts things in order — beginning, middle and end. Until we do that with a life event, we have no satisfying arc to bring us comfort

Going through hardship? We turn it into a story in which there is some mysterious reason for whatever is troubling us so that we have hope we will find some reward for our struggle.

Experiencing a victory? When we tell others of it, we don’t just say “Here’s my triumph.” We craft it into a narrative that shows a journey from there to here, complete with all the messy stuff in the middle. Think Rocky. There’s a pug club fighter; there’s a training montage; there’s a victory.

So yes, we tell stories to live … because without stories, our lives make no sense.

What about the ‘I’m dreaming for a living’ thing?

So yes, I love quotes. Many of the sections on this site are themed off of others’ witticisms. “I’m dreaming for a living” is the theme of Cinematics because it was said by movie producer Steven Spielberg.

“I don’t dream at night, I dream at day, I dream all day; I’m dreaming for living.”

That’s a pretty good way to look at movie-making. Heck, it’s a pretty good way to look at your life if you’re involved in any sort of creative endeavor in which you’re conjuring something from nothing.

How is graphic design ‘Intelligence made visible?’

This quote is often incorrectly attributed to Alina Wheeler, a design director and brand consultant. It was first said by Lou Danziger, a noted graphic designer. And it’s true. There is so much more to good design work than throwing a bunch of pretty stuff on the page. What is so often missed by non-marketing-types is that every single thing in a design is intentional and is designed to make you feel. The font choice, its size, the location of a copy block, the choice of each word, the color scheme… everything is done for a reason.

If you don’t have a reason for something in a design, it probably shouldn’t be there until you figure it out.

Design is a visual representation of not only the designer’s intelligence, but the audience’s intelligence. Good design works because it helps people craft narratives that make sense. (Sound familiar?)

Once something makes sense in a person’s heart and mind (more the former than the latter), they are more likely to act in a manner you as a marketer would like them to act.

Do you really have a Donald Trump quote on your site?

Sigh… yes.

“It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

Donald J. Trump, Jan. 21, 2020


You see, I am not from China. And I still don’t have my Longhaul COVID under control. And it’s not just fine.

So bingo: There’s the title for “Longhauler: A COVID Diary.”

What’s up with all these other people contributing on your site?

They’re my friends. Or my relatives. Or relatives of my friends. Or friends of my relatives.

But are they real?

Well, let’s talk about what it means for something to be “real.”

Let me quote Morpheus from The Matrix

“If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

Essentially, something exists if it has energy. And the likes of Q.F. Conseco (my hippie California relative), “Pissed Off” Paulie Magnotti (my East Coast “Uncle”) and Lucy Robertson-Rosenblatt (my friend from back in the day) — they all, indeed, have energy.

Do they walk around and breathe air and eat food and take up space. Sure they do. As much as the person writing to you now does.

We’re all made up of different voices. Very, very, very few of us are, for example, the exact same at work and at home. Or with our spouse and our friends. Or at a fancy restaurant and a professional football game. Accepting that as truth, who is the real you? It’s foolish to try to pick one of those “personas,” because doing so would invalidate all the others.

Are you being “fake” at work because that’s not how you are when you are with your spouse? OK. So your spouse gets the real you? All the time? Are you sure?

Are you “playing a role” when you’re at the fancy restaurant — or is that the “real” you and the “role” is being played at the football game?

The point is this: None of is any one anything. We’re all chameleons. Some of us just indulge the various personas who make us us a little more creatively.

And so Q.F. is the free-natured Hippie who, in many ways, rejects an upbringing he’s not all that comfortable with and who sees the events of the day partially because of that upbringing and partially in spite of it.

Pissed Off Paulie is angry. All. The. Time. The little annoying things everyone just accepts as being part of the world are unacceptable to him, and he’s gonna let you know why.

Lucy’s focus is on giving advice to others, but she might not be so great at managing her own life.

Solace struggles to make her voice heard — and has a bit of a “password protected” secret side to her.

And Brian Goode? Man, he just likes to chill with some music and fall into the world of sound.

Those folks are all real.

So who are your “folks?” Have you ever thought about giving them a face? A past? A purpose? Do you ever wonder what would happen if you put one of them in charge of the tribe for a few days? Have you considered how such a disparate group of voices can somehow coexist, how all of them are necessary for you to be you? Maybe give some time to exploring that.

OK, so now what?

So now I hope you go enjoy what there is to do here. If you haven’t read this…

… it might be a good idea.

And then… well, have fun! (And spread the word by sharing all this fun stuff!)

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